Thursday, April 27, 2006

Countdown to Audrey: The Series


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

April 26


By nearly every conceivable measure, my daughter -- a healthy, happy, staggeringly beautiful 7-pound mound of joy -- chose a bleak day to pry herself loose from the comforts of the womb. Labor commenced at 5:30 a.m. on April 25, a day relatively unmarked by the traumas of history. True, on 25 April 1972, the North Vietnamese Army unleashed the Nguyen Hue Offensive, which over the course of three months killed 100,000 NVA and 25,000 South Vietnamese troops; among other things, the invasion underscored the failure of Nixon's "Vietnamization" strategy as American ground forces prepared to leave by Autumn of that year. And April 25 was also the date in 1847 on which the last survivors of the Donner Party emerged from the Sierra Nevadas, their lips still glistening from the roasted meat of their dead compatriots -- about a half dozen of whom they had eaten.

So April 25 had its share of depressing connotations, but my daughter was clearly holding out for something more. So following 36 maddening hours of labor, during which neither of her parents earned more than a few moments of sleep, the baby at last arrived at 5:34 yesterday afternoon -- a day later than anyone had expected, but just in time to observe the 69th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica; the 20th anniversary of the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant; the 63rd anniverary of the formation of the Gestapo; and the 399th anniversary of the day English settlers made landfall at Cape Henry, Virginia, three weeks prior to the founding of the Jamestown settlement, from whose loins a 250-year regime of North American slavery would would spring. By sheer coincidence, April 26 is also observed in Forida and Georgia as Confederate Memorial Day, a date originally proposed by a Mrs. Charles Williams of Columbus, Georgia, who in 1868 appealed to the readers of the Columbus Times to pay tribute to the men who died on behalf of the Lost Cause. "We beg the assistance of the press and the ladies throughout the South," Williams wrote, "to aid us in the effort to set apart a certain day to be observed from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, and to be handed down through time as a religious custom of the South, to wreathe the graves of our martyred dead with flowers, and we propose the 26th day of April as the day." With the exception of Arkansas, every other former Confederate state observes a Confederate Memorial Day at some point during the first half of the year.

Although I can't be sure that my daughter has any knowledge of Confederate Memorial Day, the horrors of war, the brutality of chattel slavery, or the assorted follies of nuclear age, her father is pleased to report that she has spent the day discharging load after load of meconium -- the tar-black fecal matter that every baby grunts from its bowels during its first hours of life -- into her tiny diapers. If there's a more appropriate commentary on these and other historical matters, I doubt I'll ever hear it.

Welcome to the world, Audrey. Keep up the good work.

Monday, April 24, 2006

April 24

The heiress to my vast misfortune has once again defiantly extended her tiny middle finger to the world, refusing to make her grand entrance on a date whose historical importance is freighted with such horror.

On this date in 1915 Mehmed Talaat, interior minister for the Ottoman Empire, ordered the arrest and execution of nearly 300 Armenian intellectuals living in Constantinople. The arrests, which came three months after Talaat advised Armenians and other Christians to leave the empire, were accompanied by similar purges of teachers and other leaders in towns and cities across eastern Anatolia. Under the pretext of defending his nation against enemy collaborators accused of conspiring with Russian invaders, Talaat soon ordered the mass relocation of all Armenians to the Syrian desert of Der Zor. So began the 20th century's first genocide -- a crime so unthinkable that it indeed had no name. Over the next six months, press accounts in the United States and elsewhere struggled to describe the scale of the atrocity that befell the Armenians along the route to Der Zor, as foreign correspondents, ambassadors, Red Cross workers and missionaries described "massacres" and "slaughters" that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. By July 1915 the New York Times warned in a headline that Turkish policies were leading to the "extinction" of the Armenian people. Hewing closely to its stance of neutrality toward the belligerants of the Great War, the Wilson administration elected to remain silent. Secretary of State Robert Lansing advised Turkish authorities that while the mass killing of Armenians would "jeopardize the good feeling" that existed between the two nations, he understood that the compulsory evaluation was "more or less justifiable" due to the Armenians' "well-known disloyalty" and their location "within the zone of military operations." Anticipating the logic of his own nation's internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Lansing was merely one of many Americans who lost themselves in a haze of discourse. By 1917, as many as 1.5 million Armenians had been killed.

Several years later, one eyewitness recalled the manner in which the "disloyal" were dispached:
While we were being plundered, they started firing on us from the front of the caravan. At that time, one of the gendarmes pulled my sister out and took her with him. My mother cried out, “May I go blind.” I cannot remember that day any longer. I do not want to be reminded of that day. It is better for me to die than describe the events of that black day. I cannot say everything. Every time I relive those events . . . They took everyone away . . . and they struck me. Then I saw how they struck and cracked my brother's skull with an axe. As soon as the soldiers and the gendarmes began the massacres, the mob was upon us too and my brother's head was cracked open. Then my mother fell. I did not see my father; he was in another group ahead of us, but there was fighting going on there too. I was struck on the head and fell to the ground. I have no recollection of what happened after that. I do not know how long I stayed there. Maybe it was two days. When I opened my eyes, I saw myself surrounded by corpses. All the members of the caravan had been killed. Because of the darkness I could not distinguish everything. At first I did not know where I was then I began to realize that I was surrounded by corpses. I saw my mother's body; she had fallen face down. My brother's body had fallen on top of me. I could not ascertain anything more.

This eyewitness, whose name was Soghomon Tehlirian, escaped through the Caucasus to Persia with several other fugitives. On 14 March 1921, the 24-year-old Tehlirian approached Mehmed Talaat -- who had escaped to Berlin after the war and had set to work writing his memoirs -- and killed him with a single shot to the back of the head.

To this day, the government of Turkey steadfastly maintains that genocide did not take place against the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire; its officials instead refer obliquely -- in language all but pilfered from Talaat's unfinished memoirs -- to the "tragic" and "regrettable" consequences of war, to "tragedies" and "disasters" and assorted "misfortunes." The United States, for its part, continues as well to avoid recognition of the Armenian genocide, resorting instead to comfortable obfuscations calculated not to offend an important economic, political and military ally.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

April 23

Carrying on along the path worn down by her father, my daughter has resolved not to distinguish herself from the pack. Joining the 95 percent of babies who miss their due dates, she opted to hang on to her familiar life -- a life which, for all its evident drawbacks, is spent warm, naked, and nourished through a tube -- for at least one more oblivious day. And who among us, presented with a fair ledger of the pros and cons of birth, would choose differently?

William Shakespeare, who seemed to understand something about making due with rotten alternatives, was born on this date in 1564. By most accounts this was a good decision. James Buchanan, however -- arguably one of the two or three worst presidents in American history, a man whose incompetent bungling assured the nation of a civil war upon his departure from office -- might have done well to spend a few more days in utero, pondering the enormity of what he was about to do. In his inaugural address in 1857, Buchanan more or less conceded in advance the failure of his presidency by promising not to run for a second term. The Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas, who aimed to take Buchanan's place as the Democratic inhabitant of the White House in 1860, found those aspirations thwarted as Buchanan presided over the destruction of their party. Douglas and Buchanan, the bitterest of political enemies, happened to celebrate the same birthday -- a fact that could only have caused them even greater mutual loathing.

On the day before Buchanan's death on 1 June 1868, he remarked that "history will vindicate my memory," a sentiment doubtless shared by all failed inhabitants of the White House, past and present.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

April 22

If my daughter elects to be born today, she will join interesting company. Immanual Kant and Vladimir Lenin squirmed loose from their mothers on this date in 1724 and 1870, respectively; for several years afterward, they introduced no original ideas into the world. On this date in 1906, both Eddie Albert Heimberger and the Swedish Prince Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Västerbotten, were born. Heimberger, who dropped his last name for his career as an actor, is best remembered for his leading role in the surreal television series Green Acres, costarring the Hungarian madwoman Zha Zha Gabor; Prince Gustaf Adolf, who was at the time second in line to the Swedish throne, perished in a horrific plane crash in 1946, when a crew member forgot to disengage a rudder lock before takeoff, sending the Douglas Dakota craft nose-first into the ground. Also killed in the crash was American actress and opera soprano Grace Moore, who had not yet completed her religious conversion to Catholicism. The status of her eternal soul is uncertain.

Robert Oppenheimer, one of the creators of the atomic bomb, was born on 22 April 1904. Years after the Trinity test in July 1945, Oppenheimer recalled the moment in a television interview:
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another.

Earlier that year on Oppenheimer's 41st birthday, Adolf Hitler is alleged to have admitted defeat while cowering in the Führerbunker; having resolved himself to suicide, he did not in fact do so until April 30. On Oppenheimer's 11th birthday, 22 April 1915, German forces deployed chlorine gas against French, British and Canadian troops in the Second Battle of Ypres. Although French and German forces had previously used chemical weapons, these earlier attacks had consisted of tear and sneezing gas and did not pose a mortal threat. Chlorine gas, by contrast, destroyed the lungs and esophagus of its victims and caused slow, fiendish death by asphyxiation.
Captain Hugh Pollard, writing in his 1932 Memoir of a VC, offered the following description of the effects:
Dusk was falling when from the German trenches in front of the French line rose that strange green cloud of death. The light north-easterly breeze wafted it toward them, and in a moment death had them by the throat. One cannot blame them that they broke and fled. In the gathering dark of that awful night they fought with the terror, running blindly in the gas-cloud, and dropping with breasts heaving in agony and the slow poison of suffocation mantling their dark faces. Hundreds of them fell and died; others lay helpless, froth upon their agonized lips and their racked bodies powerfully sick, with tearing nausea at short intervals. They too would die later - a slow and lingering death of agony unspeakable.

On this date in 1993, the Holocaust Memorial Museum was dedicated. A year later, a comotose Richard Nixon died several days after suffering a massive stroke. After Nixon was buried a week later, Hunter S. Thompson offered the following words of remembrance:
If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

Friday, April 21, 2006

April 21

Having clicked past the noon hour, I believe I can predict with confidence that April 21 will not be my daughter's date of birth. The little goblin remains packed sedately inside my wife, content to avoid for at least one more day her inevitable, lifelong fistfight with the outside world. Good for her, I say. While April 21 marks something of reprieve from the cruelties of April -- especially those of the past two days -- it is a date no less awful than all the others.

For the Brazilian dentist Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, today marks the anniversary of his 1792 execution and dismemberment for treason against the Portugese crown. Xavier, who during his trial acquired the pejorative nickname "Tiradentes" -- which literally means "tooth-puller" -- organized the Inconfidência Mineira, a failed plot to detach the state of Minas Gerais from Portugese rule in February 1789. Inspired by the American and French revolutions as well as the writings of Rousseau and Raynal, Tiradentes and his collaborators were infuriated by Portugese taxation policies, which required annual tributes in gold from a nation whose mines had been depleted by the extraordinary financial demands of the Napoleonic Wars. After their planned revolt was betrayed to the governor by one of the other plotters, Tiradentes fled Vila Rica to Rio de Janiero, where he was captured in May. At his trial, which lasted three years, Tiradentes insisted that the plot had been his creation and that he had acted "without inspiration from anyone." While nearly a dozen of his collaborators were condemned to death, Tiradentes' sentence was the only one actually to be executed. After being hanged, Tiradentes was decapitated and his body drawn into quarters. The head, nailed unceremoniously to a post, was displayed in Vila Rica square; his limbs were distributed to the cities between Vila Rica and Rio, where they served as a grim warning to other aspiring revolutionaries. Martyr to the cause of Brazilian nationalism, Tiradentes' death is acknowledged every April 21 as a national holiday.

Uncommemorated and forgotten, the charred and unidentified remains of scores of prisoners are buried in mass graves at Evergreen, Eastlawn and Harper-McKinley cemeteries in Columbus, Ohio. Monuments to the worst prison fire in American history, these anonymous gravesites hold most of the inmates who died on 21 April 1930 when a candle ignited a pile of oily rags on the roof of West Block. Prison officials scrambled in vain to locate a master key; abandoned as the fire spread, the prisoners suffered unimaginable deaths, as 322 were asphyxiated and barbecued in their cells. Among the dead that day was 31-year-old Wilbur "Fats" Young, a World War I veteran serving a sentence at Columbia for bigamy. Young's hometown paper, the Deshler Flag, carried his obituary on 24 April 1930:
[F]ate was not kind to Wilbur Young and he lost his life, while still a young man, within the gray walls of the institution in a most horrible manner. Trapped in his cell like a wild beast with no hope of release he could see the flames, smoke and heat creep closer and closer while all he could do was to wait and do nothing but still wait. Convict though he was, and the rest may be or rather may have been, yet withal there beat in his breast a human heart with human feelings and a heart that could love those near and dear to him and be loved in turn and it casts a pall of gloom and sorrow over those who knew him to think of the awful manner of his ending.

Mr. Young and Funeral director Rader took the ambulance to Columbus on Tuesday afternoon with the expectation of bringing the body back but were informed that no bodies would be released until 9 o'clock on Wednesday morning. They were also told that the body would be furnished with a shroud, color and tie and a coffin, and that transportation charges would be prepaid to its destination.

Prison officials blamed the fire on a botched escape plan, but the fire drew increased attention to the miserable conditions at the Columbus facility, which was operating at twice its intended capacity. Meager efforts were made to improve Ohio's prison system over the next several years; none succeeded, and the Ohio Penitentiary was the site of three major riots in the decades after World War II. The facility was ordered closed in 1979. From 1897-1963, it had been the site of 315 executions -- seven fewer than the number killed on this date in 1930.

On this date in 1997, the State of Texas executed Benjamin H. Boyle for the October 1985 murder of Gail Lenore Smith, a 20-year-old cocktail waitress from Ft. Worth. For his last meal, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Boyle requested a doublemeat cheeseburger, french fries with ketchup, and a Coke.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

April 20

Those who yodel endlessly and ahistorically about the spectre of "Islamofascism" will no doubt be thrilled to learn that today marks the birthdays of both Adolf Hitler and the prophet Mohammed. So far, it appears unlikely that my daughter -- whose official due date has been set for April 23 -- will choose today to burst forth into this miserable world. The same divine fortune, however, was not bestowed upon Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the late jazz great Lionel Hampton, or Funny Cide, the horse who blew his shot at the Tiple Crown in 2003. All three were born on April 20.

Although it was not the anniversary of her birth, April 20 was nevertheless an especially awful day for Elizabeth Barton, the "holy maid of Kent." Known for her fits of religious mania and for her ecstatic ravings against sin and vice, the popular and delusional Barton prophesied that the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn would invite the Lord's deadly wrath. After being brought into the presence of the king himself, she is alleged to have berated him mercilessly for his annulled marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his decision to remarry Boleyn:
Satan is tormenting me for the sins of my people, but our blessed Lady shall deliver me by her mighty hand... O times! O manners!... Abominable heresies, impious innovations!... King of England, beware that you touch not the power of the holy Father... Root out the new doctrines... Burn all over your kingdom the New Testament in the vulgar tongue. Henry, forsake Anne Boleyn and take back your wife Catherine... If you neglect these things, you shall not be King longer than a month, and in God’s eyes you will not be so even for an hour. You shall die the death of a villain, and Mary, the daughter of Catherine, shall wear your crown.

Henry, the torrent of nonsense washing over him, merely shrugged his shoulders. Over the next year, Barton's accusations against the king became more outrageous and flamboyant. At last arrested for treason and coerced into denying her own prophecies, Barton ascended the scaffold on 20 April 1534.

In the 20th century, April 20 brought two of the worst massacres in American history. On this date in 1914, an army of hired goons opened fire on a camp of striking coal workers in Ludlow, Colorado, killing 17 people -- 10 of whom were children, several of them asphysiated when the tent standing over the hole where they had sought refuge caught fire, sucking the oxygen from their lungs. The septuagenarian labor radical "Mother" Mary Jones, who had come to Colorado in support of the miners, described the massacre in her autobiography:
Immediately the machine guns began spraying the flimsy tent colony, the only home the wretched families of the miners had, spraying it with bullets. Like iron rain, bullets fell upon men, women and children.

The women and children fled to the hills. Others tarried. The men defended their homes with their guns. All day long the firing continued. Men fell dead, their faces to the ground. Women dropped. The little Snyder boy was shot through the head, trying to save his kitten. A child carrying water to his dying mother was killed.

By five o'clock in the afternoon, the miners had no more food, nor water, nor ammunition. They had to retreat with their wives and little ones into the hills. Louis Tikas was riddled with shots while he tried to lead women and children to safety. They perished with him.

Night came. A raw wind blew down the canyons where men, women and children shivered and wept. Then a blaze lighted the sky. The soldiers, drunk with blood and with the liquor they had looted from the saloon, set fire to the tents of Ludlow with oil-soaked torches. The tents, all the poor furnishings, the clothes and bedding of the miners' families burned. Coils of barbed wire were stuffed into the well, the miners' only water supply.

After it was over, the wretched people crept back to bury their dead. In a dugout under a burned tent, the charred bodies of eleven little children and two women were found -- unrecognizable. Everything lay in ruins. The wires of bed springs writhed on the ground as if they, too, had tried to flee the horror. Oil and fire and guns had robbed men and women and children of their homes and slaughtered tiny babies and defenseless women.

Eight five years and 181 miles from Ludlow, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris -- who quite probably had never heard of the Ludlow Massacre -- celebrated the birthday of Adolf Hitler by committing suicide, though not before they had killed thirteen fellow students and teachers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Lost in the news that day was the untimely death of professional wrestler "Ravishing" Rick Rude, whose mighty heart -- plumped to unnatural dimensions by steroids, pounded by athletic excess into a brittle tube of meat -- at last exploded in his chest.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

April 19

It would be difficult to imagine a more violent and depressing day than April 19. Unless something truly spectacular occurs in the next few minutes, my daughter will have the good fortune not to recognize this as the day of her birth.

The April 19 bloodbath begins with the the Feast of St. Alphege, so named for a certain Archbishop of Canterbury who was bludgeoned to death by the marauding Danes on this date in 1012. After seven months in captivity, Alphege refused to allow his three thousand pounds ransom to be paid by the English crown; his Danish captors, disgruntled and loaded with drink, set themselves upon the poor, stubborn cleric and pulverized him remorselessly. His death is described as follows in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
Then on the Saturday was the army much stirred against the bishop; because he would not promise them any fee, and forbade that any man should give anything for him. They were also much drunken; for there was wine brought them from the south. Then took they the bishop, and led him to their hustings, on the eve of the Sunday after Easter, which was the thirteenth before the calends of May; and there they then shamefully killed him. They overwhelmed him with bones and horns of oxen; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God.

Placing an awfully high price on conjecture (as Anatole France would have phrased it), Alphege elected to die for his faith.

Risking limb and life for a hopeless cause of their own, a mob of pro-secessionist yokels chose this date in 1861 to trash Baltimore in protest against the impending war between the states. As the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry passed through the city, they were attacked by a mob bearing cobblestones and brickbats; in arguably one of the first skirmishes of the American Civil War, soldiers and townsmen battled throughout the afternoon as four people lost their lives. Among the dead was listed Private Luther Ladd of Massachusetts, whose last words were implausibly reported to be "God save the Stars and Stripes." Within a month, President Lincoln declared martial law in Baltimore and arrested the mayor and other public officials, all of whom were confined at Ft. McHenry.

Amid another divisive conflict a century later, Vietnam War veterans gathered in the nation's capital on 19 April 1971 to commence a series of demonstrations known as Dewey Canyon III -- ten years to the day after the failed landing of Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs. Reverend Jackson Day, a former military chaplain who had quit his position in protest against the war, offered these eloquent words that afternoon at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier:
Maybe there are some others here like me--who wanted desperately to believe that what we were doing was acceptable, who hung on the words of "revolutionary development" and "winning the hearts and minds of the people." . . . I believe there is something in all of us that would wave a flag for the dream of an America that brings medicine and candy, but we are gathered here today, waving no flags, in the ruins of that dream. Some of you saw right away the evil of what was going on; others of us one by one, adding and re-adding the balance sheet of what was happening and what could possibly be accomplished finally saw that no goal could be so laudable, or defense so necessary, as to justify what we have visited upon the people of Indochina.

Reverend Day's struggle against inhumanity was prefigured, perhaps, by the final battle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on this date in 1943, the eve of Passover. In response to unremitting sniper and grenade attacks, the Nazis demolished the Warsaw ghetto block by block, encircling and destroying the Jewish population of the city. In the fighting that followed the April 19 uprising, over 13,000 Jews were killed; after the revolt had been suppressed, 50,000 additional Jews were transported to the gas chambers at Treblinka, which had recently been upgraded to kill three thousand people in two hours.

Finally, today marks the 231st anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, where a small band of Massachusetts farmers took up arms against the British empire. Timothy McVeigh, perhaps believing he was acting in their spirit, rented a Ryder truck on this date in 1995, stuffed it with ammonium nitrate and nitromethane, and parked it in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

April 18

Niall Ferguson, historian and wanker, is celebrating his 42nd birthday today. In a column the other day in the Sunday Telegraph, Ferguson urged Americans to sustain their historic sense of "optimism" -- which otherwise might be termed "denial" -- as long as humanly possible, lest the world tumble from their shoulders. After sharing some grim (and rather unilluminating) economic and sociological data to the effect that Americans are wracked with debt and that the global economy floats on a sea of mindless Yankee consumption; that among other consequences, the climate just might be changing permanently in response to said consumption; and that perhaps the worst thing for the environment might be that Africans stop starving, dying of AIDS and annihilating one another in civil wars, Ferguson cheekily advises more of the same:
So long as Americans keep walking on the sunny side of the street, the global economy will carry on growing. The nightmare scenario, however, is that optimism could suddenly tip over into pessimism.

"The only thing we have to fear," declared Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression, "is fear itself." That fear has been long absent from American life. But we should never forget what a devastating thing it can be on those rare occasions when the US crosses over to the shady side of the street.

I am pleased to report that halfway through April 18, it appears unlikely that my daughter -- who remains nestled obliviously inside my wife, where she has consumed nothing but blood and amniotic fluid since her conception -- will not share her birthday with the likes of Niall Ferguson.

Monday, April 17, 2006

April 17

Twenty years ago today, arguably the strangest war ever came to a successful conclusion, without a single shot having ever been fired.

As fate would have it, April 17 also marks the 31-year anniversary of the end of the Cambodian Civil War. On this date in 1975, the "neutralist" government of Lon Nol was overthrown by the murderous and xenophobic Khmer Rouge, led by the maniacal Pol Pot. From 1970 to 1973, the US had sought furiously to sustain the Lon Nol regime against the predations of regional communists, unleashing 80,000 air missions and discharging nearly 550,000 tons of ordnance on the Cambodian landscape -- a figure that represents over three times the tonnage dropped on Japan during World War II. While figures vary wildly, the CIA estimated that 600,000 Cambodians died as a direct result of the bombing campaign. Following the ascent of the Khmer Rouge, as many as two million more Cambodians -- including ethnic Thai and Vietnamese -- died as Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge liquidated the nation's cities and set the population to work creating an agrarian utopia. In 1978, a unified Vietnam invaded Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge were displaced from power by a government distinguished only by its fealty to the Vietnamese. For reasons familiar to anyone who understands the perversity of the cold war in Asia, the United States elected throughout the 1980s to support an insurgent coalition led by the ousted Khmer Rouge; in addition to providing financial assistance to the "Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea," the United States endorsed the seating of the CGDK at the United Nations, arguing that the Vietnamese puppet government was somewhat less legitimate than a menagerie of genocidal lunatics.

In addition to these and other trivial matters, the historical record will also quite likely show that my first child -- a daughter whose arrival my wife and I eagerly expect sometime in the next week -- was not born on this date.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Not again

Someone needs to issue an injunction prohibiting anyone associated with the Weekly Standard from drawing any further analogies between the present historical moment and the dark days of the 1930s. The latest volley of incoherent yodeling comes from William Kristol, who clucks his tongue and sighs that the Bush administration may indeed lack the raisins to confront Iran over its (cough) dreaded nuclear program. Moans Kristol:
IN THE SPRING OF 1936--seventy years ago--Hitler's Germany occupied the Rhineland. France's Léon Blum denounced this as "unacceptable." But France did nothing. As did the British. And the United States.

. . . Today, it is President Bush who has said (repeatedly) that Iran's "development of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable, and a process which would enable Iran to develop a nuclear weapon is unacceptable." The "reason it's unacceptable," the president has explained, is that "Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world." The Iranians must "not have a nuclear weapon in which to blackmail and/or threaten the world."

Is the America of 2006 more willing to thwart the unacceptable than the France of 1936? So far, not evidently. According to the New York Times, "One of President Bush's most senior foreign policy advisers" recently told a group of academics, "The problem is that our policy has been all carrots and no sticks. And the Iranians know it."

I won't attempt to top Scott's apt description of these arguments as "pathetically quarter-assed smear jobs," though I will note that for the neocons, every day is groundhog's day -- Kristol, Podhoretz, Perle and the rest of them wake up, poke their snouts out from their fortified bunkers on the front lines of global conflict, and believe it's 1936, or 1938, or 1939 (but never 1937, for reasons I can't quite explain) all over again. If I recall correctly, Norman Podhoretz was stroking this analogy as far back as 1979-1980 as he promoted the ascent of Ronald Reagan to Mount Olympus; and of course everyone recalls the self-parodying Hitler analogies during the first Gulf War; and then during the 1990s, through their long nights in the underground, le resistance mumbled constantly about the "catastrophic and catalyzing" effect a "new Pearl Harbor" attack might have on the flabby, degraded will of the American people.

What I don't understand is this: Since we're already presumably engaged in a titanic struggle with evil -- depending on his mood, for example, Bush is always fondly comparing the GWOT to either the second world war or to the cold war -- how the fuck can we be stuck back in the 1930s again? Have the very people who insist that we "never forget" September 11 suddenly forgotten that they already got their "new Pearl Harbor?" But I suppose that's the point. Aside from their ahistorical and neurotic incantations of "Munich," "Chamberlain," "appeasement," and whatnot, the truly awful purpose served by the 1930s analogy is to imply that anything short of massive confrontation serves merely to delay the next inevitable . . . well . . . massive confrontation.

This movie sucks. I want my money back.

Friday, April 07, 2006

It took nearly a month to identify the culprit, but we're pretty sure now that it was Jacques Derrida

Shorter Paul Mirengoff: The staggering cultural authority of the Duke University English department was strangely incapable of prodding university officials into action before it was too late. Indeed, the hypocrisy of it all reminds me of a Tom Wolfe novel I've never read.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bad day for Jeebus

First, we learn that prayer has no discernible clinical value.

And now this. And especially this.

Shorter version of somebody's blog entry that has yet to be written but probably will by the end of the day: Why won't the New York Times cover the positive stories about religion? Where are the articles on our youth groups, our nourishing potluck suppers, and our unimpeachably coherent views on human sexuality? Moreover, why is the Times allowing the man who betrayed Jesus to the Romans to offer up his side of the story? After 9-11, we have to be very careful about the things we say; by covering the so-called "Gospel of Judas," the Times once again reveals its objectively anti-religious and pro-betrayist stance. When will the MSM learn that America is a Chrisian nation? I think we know the answer to that. Heh.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Back in the day, Republicans opposed this sort of thing

tomWhile driving home this afternoon, I heard a caller on Michael Reagan's show recommend that the US offer its citizens $25 bounties for each "illegal" they could round up and turn over to the INS. She suggested that the half-billion dollar cost of such a program might actually be worth it. Reagan, who probably thought he was joking, mused that he could get $50 just for turning in "my gardener and my maid." Then he asked his producer if she might allow him capture and turn over her landscaping crew. She said he could. Reagan sounded immensely pleased by this. My head exploded, so I missed the rest of the conversation.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


One of my favorite students asked me today if being a teacher was "rewarding." I responded by explaining that I'm terrified to speak in public but do it anyway; that I find it frustrating when most of my students attend class with nothing more than a coffee cup; that the generally low attendance rates drive me up the fucking wall; that my university pays me in pizza coupons and company scrip; but that all things considered, I could be doing worse things with my time.

Now that John McCain is offering me fifty dollars an hour to pick lettuce, though, I may have to re-evaluate all of the above. See you in Arizona.

"I'm running on fumes today"

. . .Meanwhile, in post-civil rights America, white talk radio hosts beat up on Cynthia McKinney and the NC Central student who has accused players from Duke's lacrosse team of raping her. Whatever we can make of the merits of either the McKinney or the Duke cases, the passage of conservative men into the realm of racist fantasy is worth pondering. We might note their elisions of class and sexuality, as Neil Boortz and Rush Limbaugh managed to conflate a black Congresswoman and a university student with the proverbial "ghetto sluts" and "ho's," as if a black woman's mere accusation of racially-inspired harrassment or violence required that white men stand up and impugn her honor. Boortz and Limbaugh have of course apologized for their remarks -- Limbaugh's, in fact, came within minutes of the original remark -- but I'm fairly certain the two will continue to refer to these episodes not to underscore their mental frailty, but to insist that (a) the forces of political correctness must accasionally be appeased now and again; (b) their own remarks were nothing compared to the language used by blacks to ridicule one another (e.g., the "have you listened to rap music lately" defense); or (c) Cynthia McKinney's hair really is odd.

On the more unrestrained periphery of the right wing, we find Boortz's and Limbaugh's compatriots at Little Green Fascists having an absolute hootenanny at McKinney's expense, with the comment thread on this post offering an excellent rejoinder to anyone who believes that Confederate psychosexual fantasies are a fixture of the past. Some of the lowlights:
Someone should do a poll:
More disturbing:
Lobster tails on head-Cynthia
Buckwheat on crack-Cynthia (1)

Shouldn't Ms McKinney be shot simply because she should be considered too ugly to be a member of the humane race? (2)

It takes about 2 joints and a half bottle of Burbon before I get that look on my face. Cockroach in the headlights look, that is. (3)

When I was a kid there was a phrase my mom and the older ladies would use about a lady with a lot of experience or some mileage on her (not necessarily a 'Ho). They'd say: "She's been around the block a few times" which sort of said it all.(4)

Every white person on Earth could drop dead tomorrow & Africa would still be an open wound on civilization.(5)

One thing McKinney was right about though. The guard did touch her inappropriately. He should have spun her to the ground, pulled her arms behind her back, cuffed her and then with the assistance of another guard, picked her up by the arm sockets and frog marched her out just like any other scuffler would have been marched.(6)

Yo, got it solved for ms ma keen ey,,
If she just walks in the House office buildings backwards , with her big ass first
then no way any of the guards will not know in an instant who it is..........
just saying , if you got a big ass use it girl. (7)

I'd tap that. (8)

Notwithstanding a few commenters who objected to the thread's utter depravity, the Sambo and Buckwheat references carried the day. It was like a Maoist confessional, only without the apologies.

Monday, April 03, 2006

America . . .

Fuck yeah.

Update: Best reaction so far? We'd expect nothing less from 2004's "Blog of the Year":
It's too bad, I think. DeLay was an effective leader, albeit too liberal in recent years. It's possible, of course, that he did something wrong along the way. But there is no evidence of that in the public domain; as I've often said, the politically-inspired prosection of DeLay by Travis County's discredited DA, Ronnie Earle, is a bad joke. As far as we can tell at the moment, DeLay appears to be yet another victim of the Democrats' politics of personal destruction--the only politics they know.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Wild about Harry

Consistent with the Bush administration's new public relations strategy, Alan Dowd at the Weekly Standard has turned once again to the Harry Truman analogy, this time to suggest that the unscrolling atrocity of Iraq may ultimately find vindication in the capable hands of historians, no matter what the contemporary evidence suggests. Reviving all the predictable points of comparison between Bush and Truman -- their religiosity, their blunt and ungrammatical speech patterns, their bold doctrinal pronouncements, and their refusal to pay attention to polls -- Dowd optimistically suggests that when the nation bids George W. Bush a hearty "fuck you" as he departs the White House in 2009, the two presidents will have much in common:
When Truman left the White House, he was generally considered neither particularly successful nor popular. His decision not to seek a third term (even though he was the last president permitted to do so) was evidence of his waning political strength. Yet today, he is ranked among America's greatest presidents.

This is not to say that Bush is destined for a Trumanesque legacy, of course; but neither is he doomed to failure. Tomorrow's historians--not today's polls or pundits--will render the final verdict.

It's hard to know where to begin dis-assembling this train of thought. Since Bush's speechwriters began plagiarizing the Truman Doctrine in the weeks after 9/11, the Truman meme has been reiterated by various species of hawk who insist -- depending on the occasion -- that Bush is merely carrying on the triumphant foreign policy legacy that brought victory in the cold war, or that Democrats have wandered so far into the thickets of lunacy that they can no longer recall the "muscular liberals" of the 1940s. Neoconservatives have always spoken fondly of Truman, deploying heroic couplets and bathetic arm gestures to emphasize what a Mighty Fine Man he was; disaffected Democrats invoked Truman's memory during the early 1970s to scald the McGovernites, and Truman became something of a billiken for Reagan's supporters, many of whom laid breezy and ahistorical claims to the mad hatter's legacy of toughness.

We might suggest that the neocons love Truman because he was the only president with the raisins to drop The Big One, but that would be a bit uncharitable. Their affection for the Truman Doctrine is evidence enough of their deranged nostalgia. A masterful instrument of presidential rhetoric -- and a must-read for anyone who wishes to undertand the early history of the cold war -- the Truman Doctrine was not an unequivocally good thing for the United States. It presented a simplified image of a world carved up between the forces of freedom and totalitarianism, and it pledged unqualified support for free people "resisting armed subjugation" from outside forces anywhere in the world. Contemporaneous realists like Hans Morgenthau and George Kennan believed Truman had lost his marbles. The next year, in fact, Kennan wrote that Truman's "universalistic approach has a strong appeal to U.S. public opinion, for it appears to obviate the necessity of dealing with the national peculiarities and diverging political philosophies of foreign peoples; which many of our people find confusing and irritating. In this sense, it contains a strong vein of escapism.” Over the next few years, the evident "escapism" of the Truman Doctrine would help land the United States in a disastrous and unpopular war in Korea. While the US succeeded in that war by defending South Korea from absorption by the North, few of Truman's more recent celebrants seem to recall that the US also failed in its attempt to "roll back" communism North of the 38th parallel -- nearly 80% of American casualties occurred after Truman decided (unwisely, as it turned out) to remake the Korean conflict into a campaign of liberation. Truman's war, moreover, froze US-Chinese relations for over two decades; helped to lock the nation into the awful monotony of ever-rising defense budgets; and provided the rationale for American commitments to the defense of French Indochina.

Alan Dowd and other Bush supporters are certainly welcome to use whatever historical analogies come to mind, but their preference for Truman might ultimately reveal more than they wish to know about the future that awaits their beloved W.